Coolie Woman

The Odyssey of Indenture

By Gaiutra Bahadur
University of Chicago Press, Hardcover, 9780226034423, 274pp.

Publication Date: October 2013

List Price: $35.00*
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Description
In 1903, a young woman sailed from India to Guiana as a coolie the British name for indentured laborers who replaced the newly emancipated slaves on sugar plantations all around the world. Pregnant and traveling alone, this woman, like so many coolies, disappeared into history.In"Coolie Woman"shortlisted for the 2014 Orwell Prizeher great-granddaughter Gaiutra Bahadur embarks on a journey into the past to find her.Traversing three continents and trawling through countless colonial archives, Bahadur excavates not only her great-grandmother's story but also the repressed history of some quarter of a million other coolie women, shining a light on their complex lives.
Shunned by society, and sometimes in mortal danger, many coolie women were either runaways, widows, or outcasts. Many of them left husbands and families behind to migrate alone in epic sea voyagestraumatic middle passages only to face a life of hard labor, dismal living conditions, and, especially, sexual exploitation. As Bahadur explains, however, it is precisely their sexuality that makes coolie women stand out as figures in history. Greatly outnumbered by men, they were able to use sex with their overseers to gain various advantages, an act that often incited fatal retaliations from coolie men and sometimes larger uprisings of laborers against their overlords. Complex and unpredictable, sex was nevertheless a powerful tool.
Examining this and many other facets of these remarkable women's lives, "Coolie Woman"is a meditation on survival, a gripping story of a double diasporafrom India to the West Indies in one century, Guyana to the United States in the nextthat is at once a search for one's roots and an exploration of gender and power, peril and opportunity.



About the Author
Gaiutra Bahaduris a journalist and book critic whose work has appeared in the"New York Times Book Review", the"Washington Post", "Ms.", and the"Nation", among other publications.



NPR
Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013

When slavery was outlawed in the Caribbean, indentured servitude took over. Host Michel Martin speaks with author Gauitra Bahadur. Her book Coolie Woman traces her great-grandmother's roots from India to Guyana. More at NPR.org

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